August is National Immunization Awareness Month!๐Ÿ’‰


Those Nerdy Girls are cheerleaders for any and all advances in science that improve peopleโ€™s lives. We could argue that no breakthrough has been more important in keeping us healthy than the development of vaccines! August is celebrated as National Immunization Awareness Month in the US, so what better time to get nerdy ๐Ÿค“ about the history of vaccinations and take a look at where weโ€™re headed in the future?

Vaccines were a game changer for our health. Before they existed, humans tried their best to treat diseases once they fell sick. Vaccines are given preventively to healthy people to trigger our immune systems to recognize and assemble a tiny team to fight a virus or bacteria, so when we encounter the pathogen again, we are armed and ready to block an illness or reduce the symptoms of one.

The idea of exposing people to infection to prevent illness has been around for thousands of years. Most of our early efforts came from smallpox – this was a very contagious viral illness with devastating consequences that had been around for 3000 years. The illness was fatal in 1 out of 3 people who became infected, causing disfigurement to those who did survive. There are reports of people in Asia and Africa attempting to expose healthy individuals to smallpox to prevent more severe illness later as far back as 200 BCE, a process known as โ€œvariolationโ€. The idea eventually spread to Europe by a woman named Lady Mary Wortley Montague in 1721, having observed the practice while living in Turkey. Then in 1796 physician Edward Jenner used information observed by those all who came before him to successfully vaccinate a child against smallpox. By first inoculating him with material from a cowpox sore, he induced a similar but milder illness. When he exposed the child to smallpox later, the child didnโ€™t get sick!

๐Ÿšจ๐ŸšจNerd alert! The Latin word for ๐Ÿ„cow is โ€œvaccaโ€, which is where โ€œvaccineโ€ comes from๐Ÿšจ๐Ÿšจ

Not everyone was on board, as fear of the new science triggered silly rumors, including that the process could turn you into a cow. Eventually enough data was collected on the safety and effectiveness of the smallpox inoculation, causing the practice to spread across England and to France and the United States. As technology improved in the 1950s, the vaccine was produced in bigger, more stable, and safer quantities, resulting in widespread vaccination. In 1959, the World Health Organization called for a massive global effort in research, vaccine production and public health campaigning with a goal to end smallpox entirely. It took years of collaboration from scientists, vaccine makers, epidemiologists and governments all over the world, but in 1980 the World Health Organization declared that smallpox had been eradicated globally!! This was a huge win for the world and an amazing example of the way public health campaigns can change our lives for the better.

On the tail of the success from the early work of the smallpox vaccine, research and development of vaccines to prevent other serious illnesses ramped up in the mid 1900s. Through hard work of countless scientists, we saw the development of more than 25 different vaccines, including:

๐Ÿ’‰ Yellow fever vaccine, 1938

๐Ÿ’‰ Pertussis (whooping cough) vaccine, 1939

๐Ÿ’‰ Influenza vaccine, 1945

๐Ÿ’‰ Polio vaccine, 1952-1955

๐Ÿ’‰ Measles vaccine, 1963

๐Ÿ’‰ Mumps vaccine, 1967

๐Ÿ’‰ Rubella vaccine, 1969

๐Ÿ’‰ Hepatitis B vaccine, 1969

๐Ÿ’‰ Combined measles, mumps, rubella vaccine 1971

๐Ÿ’‰ Pneumococcal vaccine, 1978

๐Ÿ’‰ Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib) vaccine, 1985

๐Ÿ’‰ Rotavirus vaccine, 2006

๐Ÿ’‰ HPV vaccine, 2006

All of these vaccines remain part of a standard childhood immunization schedule recommended for all U.S. children. Childhood vaccinations have been integral in reducing morbidity and mortality from contagious illnesses on a scale thatโ€™s hard to comprehend in 2023. Itโ€™s estimated that 4 million deaths worldwide are prevented each year by way of childhood immunizations, and life expectancy globally has increased by 30 years since the late 1800s, in part due to reduction in vaccine preventable illnesses. And scientists continue to work on new vaccines all the time – the success of the COVID-19 vaccines since 2020 shows how we can continue to adapt and address new global health challenges as they develop.

Over the month of August, stay tuned for more information about the past, present and future of vaccines!

Stay safe, stay well.

Love, Those Nerdy Girls


Additional resources

CDC National Immunization Awareness Month

CDC interactive tool for vaccination schedule

CDC interactive tool for childhood vaccines

WHO History of Vaccinations

Link to original FB post